On January 28, the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sport presented a new way they intend to run the General Graduation Exams (for schools) and the Unified Entry Exams (for universities).
The Ministry says they want to strengthen the schools, make exams more result-oriented, boost the university autonomy and cut the financial burden for the parents.
But what are these changes all about?
Civil.ge breaks things down for you.
How did the exams work until now?
General Graduation Exams
The Ministry of Education introduced the new system of exams in secondary schools in 2010. All 11th and 12th graders had to pass a total of eight qualifying examinations. Four of them – by the end of their 11th grade and the remaining four – by the end of the graduating, 12th grade.
If an 11th-grader would fail to appear for an exam or to pass it, she could re-pass once in the 12th grade.
Unified National Exams
According to the current system of the Unified National Exams, an aspiring student has to pass three compulsory exams: in Georgian literature, in foreign language and the Basic Skills Test, which gauges the verbal, analytical and mathematical aptitudes. A fourth, optional examination may be required by a university or its particular department, where the applicant wishes to enroll.
The combined score of these tests determines the ranking of the applicants – and therefore whether they’d be able to enroll in the most sought-after universities/departments. It also affects the amount of state grant the student can receive towards their tuition.
If a particular university does not require the fourth, optional exam, but a student wants to qualify for the state funding, she will have to choose one from the elective subjects. In passing, we must note that only Georgian citizens are eligible for state grants.
What would change?
The Ministry plans to start by modifying the General Graduation Exams, the ones students pass while completing their secondary education. Exams qualifying them for entering the tertiary, university education will be tackled later, the Ministry says.
Bye-bye the General Graduation Exams!
The Graduation Exams at schools will be scrapped. The Ministry intended to cut the slack for 11th graders first, starting this year. But the general outcry of the 12th graders ensued, so in stepped Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze and said the 12th graders will also be exempt, (scoring, in passing, an easy brownie point with the first-time voters).
So how would the schools determine if their students have graduated?
The Ministry of Education explained on February 3, that to graduate, a student must have finished with a grade of 5 points or more (out of ten) in each and every subject of instruction. So quite a reasonable threshold there.
Good news for those poor souls that have failed their graduation tests last year: they would be able to pass this year, if they meet the criteria of 5 grade points (or above) in all subjects.
The same criteria – 5 points or above – applies to students who have skipped the grade and want to graduate early, or who were left behind.
The Unified National Exams
As for these, no major change is in the offing as of 2019. The only clemency would apply to those applicants who fail to appear for the exam or fail it once: they will still be able to get the state grant (approximately GEL 2,250 (USD 850) per year in case they re-pass.
But come the academic year 2020-21, and the Unified National Exams will also see important changes. The much-maligned Basic Skill Test will be dropped from the list of obligatory ones in 2020, becoming an elective.
From this date, or prospective students will still have to past three compulsory exams. Georgian literature and foreign language are going to keep their honorary slots, while the Basic Skill Test will yield its place to the third compulsory subject, now to be determined by the university program of choice. Those who are more scientifically minded, will have do the math, while those who choose social sciences – will be tested on their knowledge of history.
Why the change?
Mikheil Batiashvili, the Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sport said the changes will make sure the students are tested on what they have learned at school, not more.
“There should be no difference between the issues of entry exams and school subjects. School subjects and university exams will be brought closer as much as possible. Most important is to return its function to schools and to ensure that parents do not have great expenses [for private tutors],” Minister Mikheil Batiashvili said.
The expenses point is an important one: it is estimated that the parents of the graduating students had to bear a significant financial burden to boost their offspring’s ability to sail through the Unified Graduation Exams, especially – you’ve guessed it! – the Basic Skills Test.
Experts? Not convinced.
The professionals and scholars of the education systems have reacted with caution to the proposed changes. But the firs reactions have diverged.
Professor Simon Janashia, of Guivy Zaldastanishvili American Academy in Tbilisi (GZAAT), says that “the current system of both graduation and [university] entry exams was unfair, not cost-effective to an extreme, [it was] hindering school development, [was] harmful for university development and irrelevant to the [education] objectives.”
He adds, “the less centrally-administered exams we have, the more fair, cost-effective, and dynamic system [of education] we will be able to create. The [announced] changes are necessary, but not sufficient for improvement. It is essential to encourage the demand for increased quality of education. It is essential to use more differentiated policy instruments. It is important to encourage diversifying education program at schools,” Janashia says.
Shalva Tabatadze, who heads the Center for Civil Integration and Inter-Ethnic Relations (CCIIR), an NGO, agrees. According to him, “the abolition of graduation exams is a positive decision in itself, because this model was absolutely useless.”
He, does however, think that the obligatory exams could have been substituted by elective exams. Tabatadze does not share the optimism of the Minister, and says simply cancelling all graduation exams won’t do anything for fostering the role of the secondary school in education system, or for bringing the university requirements closer to the school curriculum.
As for the Unified National Exams, Shalva Tabatadze said that the justification provided by the Ministry for killing the Basic Skills Test was insufficient. “Yes, the test results have ranged most dramatically for this exam, but that alone should not have become the basis for its abolition.” Tabatadze would have liked to see the foreign language test becoming crucial, alongside significant adaptation of the Basic Skills Test.
Philosopher Zaza Piralishvili came out strongly against the Ministry’s decision. According to him, if Georgia had a sufficient number of qualified teachers in the classrooms, taking due care of the process of learning, teaching the pupils things they might need in their adult life, rather than training them towards an examination algorithm, then perhaps the graduation examinations would not be necessary.
“But if we do not [have those teachers], is it not likely that we would return to the notorious 1970s, when those with the highest school GPA were given a free pass at the universities, which bred unprecedented corruption at schools?” he noted.
Defending the Basic Skills Test against its detractors, who say students do not learn for it at school, Piralishvili says its purpose is not “to assess any knowledge, but rather to find out whether an applicant to the university has elementary mathematical skills, whether she can resolve simple logical operations and understand a text. We are talking about skills, not knowledge.”
“The need for a private tutor, also in the Basic Skills Test, emerges because school, parents and students have fallen short somewhere, and not because there are exams to be passed. This institution [of private tutors] did not appear on an empty spot, [it responds to education shortfalls]”, he argues, calling the proposed changes “stillborn”. “Structural changes will bring nothing good, if our attitude towards education as a phenomenon does not fundamentally change,” the philosopher argues.
Ghia Nodia, former Education Minister and currently Professor at Ilia State University, has called the decision to drop the Basic Skills Test “absolutely unclear and counterproductive”.
“Skills test measures an applicant’s s readiness for studying at a higher educational institution in a most objective fashion. In addition, by the way, it also measures the level of native language proficiency very well,” says Nodia. He disagrees the test imposes a financial burden – “it [Basic Skills Test] is also the most “democratic” one, since private tutoring can impact results less than when training students for other exams,” Nodia said.
How was the decision taken?
The Ministry of Education brushed aside the charges that the new system would see the revival of rampant corruption at schools and universities. This endemic malaise was largely vanquished starting 2005, when the Unified National Exams were introduced.
Students rejoice as the anxiety over upcoming exams has lifted. But while the effects of the suggested policy change might now be hard to predict, at least the process through which the decision was taken shall be clear.
The National Assessment and Examinations Center (NAEC) explained that the work on the new model took several months, and that a comprehensive study of the system of unified national and graduation exams was conducted.
They also said “regular consultations and working meetings were held with the representatives of state and private higher educational institutions, schools and non-governmental organizations. Experts of international stature were also involved in the process,” NAEC said, adding that “all [proposed] changes were developed taking into consideration the interests of the [university] applicants and [high school] students.”
Unfortunately, no research or policy documents, or the minutes of deliberations were made public at the time of making the policy announcement.
Civil.ge has queried the NAEC whether any of the research and policy documents that went into the policy process could be made available for this article. We were told a study on examinations system, as well as the detailed information about all stakeholders involved in the consultation process will be unveiled “within the shortest possible period.”